Yves here. We trust you’ll enjoy the second installment of Andrew Dittmer’s examination of distilled libertarian thinking.
This post first ran on November 30, 2011
By Andrew Dittmer, who recently finished his PhD in mathematics at Harvard and is currently continuing work on his thesis topic. He also taught mathematics at a local elementary school. Andrew enjoys explaining the recent history of the financial sector to a popular audience.
Simulposted at The Distributist Review
This is the second installment of a six-part interview. For the previous part, see here. Red indicates exact quotes from Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s 2001 book “Democracy: The God That Failed.”
ANDREW: Do other libertarians agree with your idea of a libertarian society?
CODE NAME CAIN: Well, we do have our differences. For example, the Cato Institute is severely compromised by numerous left-leaning libertarians such as David Boaz. The Cato tag-alongs and certain other prominent libertarians imagine that an extremely small government would be better than no government at all. They are, of course, wrong. They have not yet recognized that every government is destructive of what they want to preserve [235-236].
ANDREW: It sounds like you and Dr. Hoppe and Murray Rothbard are strongly critical of those other libertarians. But when I looked through the Cato web site, I found that while they sometimes express disagreements, they are surprisingly respectful of Rothbard and Hoppe. Why do you think this is?
CNC: Three reasons. First, pro-government libertarians have probably realized how difficult it is to refute Rothbard and Hoppe, and so prefer instead to learn from their ideas. Second, many agree with Tibor Machan, who says that libertarians should not let their small differences over this issue “distrac[t] from the far more significant task of making the case for libertarianism in the face of innumerable bona fide statist challenges.” But third, you have to reckon with the Human Shield Effect.
ANDREW: The what?
CNC: Libertarian Bryan Caplan says that “hard-core libertarians’ comparative advantage is to play watchdog for moderate libertarians – and make them seem reasonable by comparison.” You see, on many areas other libertarians secretly agree with us, but they are afraid to acknowledge it openly. Instead, they prefer to let us take the heat for our principled positions, and to wait for us to turn previously “radical” ideas into common sense.
ANDREW: So you can count on at least some support from other libertarians. But in order to make your revolution happen, you will have to convince other people as well. Are you going to try to get a majority of U.S. voters to support the future libertarian society?
CNC: It won’t work – persuade a majority of the public to vote for the abolition of democracy and an end to all taxes and legislation? […] is this not sheer fantasy, given that the masses are always dull and indolent, and even more so given that democracy… promotes moral and intellectual degeneration? How in the world can anyone expect that a majority of an increasingly degenerate people accustomed to the “right” to vote should ever voluntarily renounce [it]? .
ANDREW: If it’s not a good idea to try to persuade a majority of Americans to surrender the right to vote, what is the right approach?
CNC: It has to start with a small elite. As Étienne La Boétie said, these are “the men who, possessed of clear minds and farsighted spirit, are not satisfied, like the brutish mass, to see only what is at their feet, but rather look about them….” These people will start to secede from the United States.
CNC: It means one regard[s] the central government as illegitimate, and… treat[s] it and its agents as an outlaw agency and “foreign” occupying forces .
ANDREW: You don’t pay your taxes?
CNC: One tries to keep as much of one’s property and surrender as little tax money as possible. One considers all federal law, legislation and regulation null and void and ignores it whenever possible . One needs to be ready in case the government makes a move, and invest in such forms and at such locations which withdraw, remove, hide, or conceal one’s wealth as far as possible from the eyes and arms of government .
ANDREW: Is this why you have a code name?
CNC: It took you a while, but you figured it out in the end.
ANDREW: How will a few people seceding lead to an anti-state revolution?
CNC: It won’t. … it is essential to complement one’s defensive measures with an offensive strategy: to invest in an ideological campaign of delegitimizing the idea and institution of democratic government among the public .
ANDREW: Did you say earlier that trying to convince the public would be difficult?
CNC: With the secession strategy, you don’t need a majority. That’s good, because [t]he mass of people … always and everywhere consists of “brutes,” “dullards,” and “fools,” easily deluded and sunk into habitual submission . Still, there can be no revolution without some form of mass participation. … the elite cannot reach its own goal of restoring private property rights and law and order unless it succeeds in communicating its ideas to the public, openly if possible and secretly if necessary… .
ANDREW: Even if you do it secretly, convincing the masses that they are inferior sounds tricky.
CNC: That’s true, but you don’t have to convince Joe the Plumber that he is a brute. You can convince him instead that he is a hardworking, productive individual, and that other people are brutes who are making it so Joe has no control over his life.
ANDREW: I see.
CNC: Still, you’re right. Convincing the masses of the superiority of the natural elite is not the most important part of our communications strategy. The central task of those wanting to turn the tide… is the “delegitimation” of the idea of democracy…  It is not enough to focus on specific policies or personalities… Every critic and criticism deserving of support must proceed to explain each and every particular government failing as an underlying flaw in the very idea of government itself (and of democratic government in particular). 
ANDREW: Now that I think of it, I have heard people saying things like that.
CNC: There is still a long way to go. There remain far too many people who make unnecessary compromises with the idea of democracy. In fact, there must never be even the slightest wavering in one’s commitment to uncompromising ideological radicalism… Not only would anything less be counterproductive, but more importantly, only radical – indeed, radically simple – ideas can possibly stir the emotions of the dull and indolent masses. And nothing is more effective in persuading the masses to cease cooperating with government than the constant and relentless exposure, desanctification, and ridicule of government and its representatives .
ANDREW: A lot of Americans think that democracy has helped the country to be prosperous.
CNC: What better evidence of the limited mental horizons of the so-called “ordinary person”? Hans-Hermann Hoppe has debunked this idea entirely, but too many people still think that the collapse of the Soviet Union had something to do with the absence of democracy! [A]s for the economic quality of democracy, it must be stressed relentlessly that it is not democracy but private property, production, and voluntary exchange that are the ultimate sources of human civilization and prosperity. 
ANDREW: So let’s see if I understand. At this point, there will be a small elite dedicated to revolution. Meanwhile, many ordinary people will no longer believe that democracy is a good system. Will you try to do this everywhere, or just in a few key places?
CNC: It doesn’t matter if people in any one city think that what we’re doing is wrong and dangerous. As long as the people who oppose us continue to wring their hands together and to talk only to people who already agree with them, they will not obstruct our efforts to find or create secessonist majorities… at hundreds of locations all over the country .
ANDREW: Aren’t you a little worried about how the government might respond to all of these people choosing not to obey the law?
CNC: You mean, considering how the U.S. government has become entangled in hundreds of foreign conflicts and risen to the rank of the world’s dominant imperialist power[?] [How] nearly every president [since 1900] has also been responsible for the murder, killing, or starvation of countless innocent foreigners all over the world ? Of course I’m worried. The U.S. president in particular is the world’s single most threatening and armed danger, capable of ruining everyone who opposes him and destroying the entire globe. 
ANDREW: But then, what will you do?
CNC: We will work to create a U.S. punctuated by a large and increasing number of territorially disconnected free cities – a multitude of Hong Kongs, Singapores, Monacos, and Liechtensteins strewn over the entire continent . This approach offers two advantages. First, a “piecemeal strategy” will make secession seem less threatening. Second, the more the secession process continues, the more the government’s strength will be eroded.
ANDREW: But there could still be conflicts between the new libertarian mini-states and the existing democracies.
CNC: If there is a conflict, it will be because a democracy has not respected the rights of the free mini-states. But you are forgetting that the mini-states will not be defenseless in such a conflict.
ANDREW: What will they do?
CNC: Since they will be no-tax free-trade haven[s], large numbers of investors and huge amounts of capital would begin to flow immediately.  It will therefore be possible to pay large multinational insurance companies to develop military forces capable of defending the free mini-states against government aggression. Keep in mind that, unlike the military forces of the democracy, these military units will be provided by private firms, and so will be much more efficient. If there were to be a conflict, these insurers would be prepared to target the aggressor (the state) for retaliation. That is, insurers would be ready to counterattack and kill, whether with long-range precision weapons or assassination commandos, state agents from the top of the government hierarchy [from the] president…. on downward… They would thereby encourage internal resistance against the aggressor government, promote its delegitimization, and possibly incite the liberation and transformation of the state territory into a free country. [264-265]
ANDREW: Will it stop there? Or will you eventually get rid of the small city-states as well?
CNC: At the correct moment, all remaining governments will be dissolved. Protection against violence will be provided exclusively by insurance firms. As I see it, public property should be distributed among taxpayers, with shares based on how much each individual or firm, up to now, has been forced to pay in taxes. Since public employees and welfare recipients are obviously recipients and not victim of taxes (theft), they will receive nothing.
ANDREW: Would you like to say anything else before I end this part of the interview?
CNC: Let me quote the conclusion of “Democracy – The God That Failed.” If and only if we succeed in this endeavor, if we then proceed to return all public property into appropriate private hands and adopt a new “constitution” which declares all taxation and legislation henceforth unlawful, and if we finally allow insurance agencies to do what they are destined to do, can we be truly proud again and will America be justified in claiming to provide an example to the rest of the world. 
In part 3 of this interview, Code Name Cain will show that he is unafraid to explain how a libertarian society will work in detail.
The Étienne La Boétie quote is from “The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary
Servitude,” New York, Free Life Editions, 1975, p. 65 (cited at Hoppe, p. 93).
“And nothing is more effective in persuading the masses to cease cooperating with government than the constant and relentless exposure, desanctification, and ridicule of government and its representatives”
Fck, this is just happening in Spain, with all the right wing parties in the opposition shouting an waving their arms absolutely for whatever the government does. Vox is the spanish party leading these libertarian theories, but most people consider them just fascists. I think they’re worse than fascists, though
Fck, this is happening right here in the USA!
What a great piece on the collapse of the Han Dynasty. I never realised chinese history was so exciting.
“superiority of the natural elite”? Having never been arrested, or fingerprinted, I have always held out the option for one extreme act to purge the planet of a human pathogen. I mentally added a name to the list, after reading this, uh, tripe….. The good/bad thing is that I am so old and slow , it’s hard for me to sneak up on anyone!
Inopportune flatulence tends to ruin that revolutionary moment.
It is amazing that echoes of Lenin or Trotsky can be heard in CNC’s arguments. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” being replaced with “multinational armed insurance companies”. CNC also demonizes the lumpen “brutes, dullards and fools.” What could go wrong?
It´s literally just warlordism.
THANK YOU! I was trying to think what was the name for this, feudalism kept coming to mind but that’s not quite it, because feudal lords swear serfdom to a central authority. Warlords, that’s the word, people with private armies who decide what’s right based on the fact that they have an army to impose their authority.
I agree. It looks like an old, well-used historical process. The coordination across the planet is impressive, but in life’s dynamic balancing the process never operates in isolation. The germ for the destruction of its goals is harbored within and resonates without.
I am hard pressed to see how it would be different and better to pay premiums to an “insurance company” aka warlord and paying taxes to a duly constituted government. Well, it would be different because I suppose the insurer could drop you or cancel your policy for any number of reasons without benefit of a hearing. So no due process, no bill of rights, everything would have to be negotiated between you and the warlord, provided they were open to a give-and-take (people with guns don’t usually like negotiating). So yes, different, but not better. A Hobbesian hellscape.
Of course, a city-state seceding from our union would need to pay for all the infrastructure left behind that the feds and state have subsidized and paid for—highways, roads, airports, internet. Who will go first?
It can be different in many ways. For instance, like libertarians hope, wealthy people paying less because they’re considered to be less risky to “insure”. Although I’m more likely to believe they will end up paying more because “their sh–tuff is worth more”, they have more to lose therefore they pay more, which is how insurance works; or, probably, simply because they can extort more money out of them (at this point, extortion is a better word than taxes or premiums). There’s the transparency issue. Sure, even nowadays, the wealthy pretty much write the law, but laws are passed publicly by publicly elected officials. If you have warlords/insurers, all those decisions would be opaque to the general public, and completely removed from general interest. Definitely not better, no.
Regarding seceding city-states, they wouldn’t have to pay for anything because they already did. If you secede, you get to keep the stuff you paid for with your taxes (usually the regions that pay more taxes get more and better infrastructure). Of course, they should also take their share of the national debt, and calculating that share could be mighty difficult (how much of that is paying for services and you won’t be receiving any more, for instance). In any case, it can be done because it’s been done in the past, as recently as 2011, in fact.
At least the militant Jihadi who wants to cut off your head and wipe out all form of governance but Allah and His Chosen is straightforward about it. None of this code name, secret society manipulation behind the scenes, to wipe out the whole of western history of the search for the Rights of Man, from the Magna Carta to the Constitution.
As a mostly keep-to-myself, philosophical anarchist, I’m prone to repeat something I’ve long said in various forms, without much merit, but worthy enough after reading this: a libertarian is just an anarchist without any empathy or love or care and concern for the earth.
Libertarian(noun): A social Darwinist with a nostalgic yearning for feudalism.
And the presumption that they will be the king.
I always wonder why these kinds of libertarians aren’t all drug kingpins, mafia dons or cartel bosses.
It’s all of libertarianism (do I need a big or small “L”?) today! No need to topple anything and the government(s) you go up against as cartel boss are the same as any other corporation/insurance company in this glorious future of theirs.
Actually “Social Darwinism” is attributed to Herbert Spencer who bastardized Darwin’s theory’s with his own views on Lamarckism, although this was rewarmed by the Libertarians as a anchor point to the moralistic justification for egregious class distinction on the premises of wealth alone.
Its also interesting that Lamarckism was also key in the narrative about demise of the people that starved due to the administrative notions of the USSR at the time.
As such I find it more than curious that the main stay of Austrian economics has chosen of late to remove the Von from its traditional heraldic nomenclature.
I don’t quite understand what I am reading here. Is this a real interview, with an anonymous person who speaks in literal quotes from a book?
Or is a socratic dialogue, and CNC is a made-up character, a narrative face for the Hoppe book?
You got it — the latter.
Dittmer’s claim that Hans-Harman Hoppe represents libertarian thinking is properly ranked with claims that Lyndon LaRouche is a representative progressive Democrat and David Duke is a representative moderate Republican.
The Libertarian Mises caucus did show up at the 2020 Libertarian National convention, but their candidate got approximately nowhere beyond the candidate’s own clique.
I beg to differ. Hoppe was willing to show the implications of libertarian ideology when you take it to its logical conclusion.
Well, when you take it to *his* logical conclusions, some of which are a might odd.
I would urge people to read the current Libertarian party platform. ‘Logical conclusion’ is what Objectivists do, ignoring that their founding mother was unaware of progress in our understanding of logic or philosophy in the past two millenia. As a particular example, note the Objectivist ‘logical conclusion’ that quantum mechanics must be false, in essence because it violates the teachings of Aristotle.
I’ve found it instructive to note the internal conflict over a period of time with this philosophy as stalwarts like Gary North et al are summarily eviscerated as the brand attempts to remain relevant in regards to new information and public views of opinion.
No one is more a threat to fundamental freedoms and justice than the committed die hard libertarian. They are more dangerous than fascists because they offer a false hope of freedom. It’s good this interview is out in the open.
Or, Socratic dialogue, rather. (I only reply because you appear to be operating under the misapprehension that this interview is actually an interview. Obviously it can’t be, because as we have learned, No True Libertarian could ever act like this. I’ve noted that True Libertarians say this as justification whenever you draw out the consequences of their premises, even if these are literally things they have just said.)
I remember talking to one libertarian who professed that all medical care must be paid for by the beneficiary, even vaccinations and other things that benefit the community as much or more than the recipient. I asked about premature babies. How would they pay for their sometimes extremely expensive births? Well, obviously their mother must pay, since you can’t garnish the babies’ wages since the babies might well die before earning anything and that would be Wrong. But, sometimes the mother dies in childbirth too! Oh well in that case you must garnish the wages of the father, and if there is no father in evidence, simply require that all births must have the maximum possible cost of all care paid for in advance, halting care immediately as soon as the predetermined limit is exceeded, until the parents cough up more. I pointed out that this criterion would have killed me at birth (or at most 16 days afterwards when my heart started to give up), and that surely dying so early is a loss of freedom, and his response was that I should have been born to a different mother.
So now it is a baby’s responsibility to pick her mother before her birth, to avoid the terrible consequence of anyone ever having to pay a penny for anyone else’s medical care.
I noted that, say, insurance of some kind might help resolve this bizarre state of requiring nonexistent people to pick rich parents before they come into existence, but he was adamant that No True Libertarian would ever allow insurance of any kind in the libertarian ideal state. Insurance is all about feckless losers (and, y’know, the unlucky) getting paid for by Rich Successful Sorts, and that would never do, since obviously being unlucky is genetic and Rich Successful Sorts are never unlucky because they have large enough capital buffers to ride out anything. His preferred libertarian state would exist to police contracts (using private courts, natch), run a huge army to enforce contract terms (so very different from CNC!) and weirdly to defend the borders and prevent immigration, and, uh, also use that army to prohibit the formation of insurance companies, because insurance companies are Evil and everyone must stand on their own two feet.
I don’t think anyone would be likely to want to immigrate into this society, frankly. I guess that keeps the cost of the government down. (It’s not clear how this huge — and expensive! — army would have been paid for. He made noises about having them extract their running costs from contractual violators, but isn’t that *literally* gangsterism?)
“CNC: Since they will be no-tax free-trade haven[s], large numbers of investors and huge amounts of capital would begin to flow immediately.  It will therefore be possible to pay large multinational insurance companies to develop military forces capable of defending the free mini-states against government aggression. ”
First, I think CNC skipped a step: how does one get from the availability of capital to hiring “insurance companies” without taxation? There has to be some mechanism for transferring wealth from the protected to the protectors.
Further to that, what happens when the protectors figure out that it is much more efficient and easy to simply expropriate the wealth of their clients rather than to “earn” it by fighting their enemies?
Indeed in international relations theory “sovereignty” is understood to mean having a monopoly on the use of violence within one’s territory. Who has that monopoly in this scenario and what does that suggest about the viability of what CNC is proposing?
Libertarianism is an ideology for simpletons. Coincidentally I’m given to understand that Silicone Valley is full of libertarians.
…what happens when the protectors figure out that it is much more efficient and easy to simply expropriate the wealth of their clients rather than to “earn” it ….
After all, why not? It’s in the libertarian ‘credo’. /heh
The weak spot is the idea that anyone in the less-than-0.01% income class is stupid. I’m sure that idea is self-flattering to the right-wing billionaires but it’s nonsense.
I am always entertained at how ahistorical libertarians are. Relying solely on mercenaries as your armed personnel has always and ever been the best of ideas. (this is a joke, there’s a reason most nation states moved away from the use of mercenaries over the last few centuries)
We have tried this form of rule.
Africa has tried, it is call tribalism.
Pity about the Chiefs (Local Kings) and their local court.
The same is true of Drug Cartels.
And of course, Hayek’s defense of dictatorship – which he declared a necessary and supposedly temporary authoritarianism but not a totalitarianism (?) – in defense of his idea of liberalism, which must of necessity disenfranchise the the masses. Oh, those libertarians and their word games. / ;)
“The progressive displacement of the rules of conduct of private and criminal law [i.e. negative freedoms] by a concept derived from public law [positive freedoms] is the process by which existing liberal societies are progressively transformed into totalitarian societies.” (Hayek, 1966).
“I have not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.”
Liberalism does not only not require democracy, democracy is a threat to liberalism as Hayek and other libertarians conceive liberalism. In Hayek’s view democracy is totalitarianism. Libertarianism sounds like old authoritarianism/totalitarianism in new language and modern sounding rationals.
“Democracy has nothing to do with freedom. Democracy is a soft variant of communism, and rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else.”
― Hans-Hermann Hoppe
Sure. You bet. /s
See reference to Spencer above …
Private property as we conceive it and property rights, in their closest to absolute form they were ever practiced in all of history, are very much a historically contingent thing, an fact an invention of the ancient Romans and roman law, products of an civilisation not exactly known for it’s lack of state power and authority.
Though of course, at least under the Republic Rome was the perfect oligarchy, with big property owners collectively (ha!) owning and running the state in a way that was maximally geared towards their interests, constantly hysterical over the danger of someone taking the natural elite’s aristocratic freedom away.
Well, that is not entirely true, because Roman oligarchs gave back more than their modern counterparts in some ways, but that was because they retained enough sense of reality to keep their society functioning for a long time.
But more important is that under Feudalism, a system glorified by many libertarians, unlike in the systems before and after, there was no private property rights to the most important resource, land.
Lords weren’t totally free to do whatever they wanted with their lands either, even though they of course had incomparably more freedom than the peasants.
And as David Graeber rightly pointed out, this lack of the absolute power encoded in law that property in land (and people) embodies, was a key reason why there was more freedom, and less violence than in either Rome or later under capitalism.
Much less starvation too.
Weakened property rights contributed to better protection for life and limb.
Nobles constantly had to bargain with and make concessions to the peasants working “their” lands, and said peasants had their ancestral rights too, it was not easy to evict or “fire” and replace them in a whim, with peasants regularly and successfully practicing a form of collective bargaining.
Lords were seen as having serious obligations to their subjects, it was a far from equal relationship, but in many ways that would REALLY irk libertarians to no end, they had less power over them than an employer over his employees.
To be fair, they had greater power in other regards, but that too came with these bothersome duties and obligations that no libertarian wants to be saddled with.
Infantile egomaniacs that they are, they’d like the perks of being a feudal Lord, but none of the responsibilities.
And of course, one of the defining features of feudal society was that generally a huge part of life was not organized via market relations at all.
Which prevented neither considerable scientific and technogical advances, nor huge productivity gains in farming.